At the Reform Party Convention in Michigan
Granny D's Speech
Publisher's note -- Granny D is the famous activist who has walked all over America promoting democracy and campaign finance reform.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there are always a few questions about who I am and what I hope to accomplish by walking from the Pacific to the Atlantic at age 89.
Who I am is an old reformer -- and I feel at home in this room.
I have been involved in reform fights through most of my adult life, but I have saved the most important for last.
It is my belief that a worthy American ought to be able to run for a public office without having to sell his or her soul to the corporations or the unions in order to become a candidate. Fundraising muscle should not be the measure of a candidate -- ideas, character, track record, leadership skills: those ought to be the measures of our leaders.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my belief that the hundreds of thousands of our dead, buried in rows upon rows in our national cemeteries, sacrificed their lives for the democracy of a free people, not for what we have today. It is up to each of us right now to see that these boys and girls did not die in vain.
With the support of my dear children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, I began my trek and I will see it through. I am doing it to bring attention to the fact that ordinary Americans like me care desperately about the condition of our government and the need for campaign finance reform.
I have traveled as a pilgrim, and Americans have taken care of me through each of my 1,800 miles. If you knew, as I know from these last seven months, what a sweet and decent nation we live in, you would be all the more determined to raise it out of this time of trouble -- this sewer of greed and cash that we have slipped into.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have come quite a way across our land, looking at every inch and meeting everyone I can.
Please imagine that you have sent me out to walk across America so that I might, this evening, report to you some findings to help you in your deliberations.
Friends, I have walked through a land where the middle class, the foundation of our democracy, stands nearly in ruins. Main streets have given way to superstores. Towns have died. Family farms, family businesses and local owners have given way to absentee owners and a local population of underpaid clerks and collection agents. People are so stressed in their household economies, and in the personal relationships that depend on family economics, that they have little time for participation in the governance of their communities or of their nation. They struggle daily in mazes and treadmills of corporate design and inhumane intent. They dearly believe their opinions matter, but they don't believe their voice counts.
They tell me that the control of their government has been given over to commercial interests. They cheer me on, sometimes in tears, but they wonder if we will ever again be a self-governing people, a free people.
With the middleclass so purposefully destroyed -- its assets plundered by an elite minority -- it should not surprise us that the war chests of presidential candidates are grotesquely overflowing with cash while children go hungry and elders must eat pet food to survive -- I have met these people. The wealth of our nation is now dangerously concentrated. The privileged elite intend to elect those who have helped them achieve this theft and who will help them preserve their position of advantage. That is what accounts for the avalanche of $1,000 checks into presidential campaigns.
Walk through this city -- Dearborn and Detroit -- and mark the doors of the families who cannot afford to give $1,000 to a presidential candidate or to a senator or two. For those who live behind these millions of doors, we do not have a democracy, but an emergency -- a crisis that deeply threatens our future as a free people.
The thousands of Americans I have met are discouraged, but they are not defeated -- nor will they ever be. They know that the government and the social order presently do not represent their interests and are not within their control -- that American democracy is nearly a fiction. But the flame of freedom that no longer burns in public, burns securely in their longing hearts.
It is said that democracy is not something we have, but something we do. But right now, we cannot do it, because we cannot speak. We are shouted down by the bullhorns of big money. It is money with no manners for democracy, and it must be escorted from the room.
While wealth has always influenced our politics, what is new is the increasing concentration of wealth and the widening divide between the political interests of the common people and the political interests of the very wealthy who are now able to buy our willing leaders wholesale. The wealthy elite used to steal what they needed and it hardly affected the rest of us. Now they have the power to take everything for themselves, laying waste to our communities, our culture, our environment and our lives, and they are doing it.
What villainy allows this political condition? -- the twin viral ideas that money is speech and that corporations are people. If money is speech, then those with more money have more speech, and that idea is antithetical to democracy. It makes us no longer equal citizens. This perverse notion, and the general, unrestricted participation of corporate and yes -- union money in our elections, must be and will be stopped if democracy is to survive. That removal, that riding out of town on a rail, was done a century ago when Republican president Theodore Roosevelt pushed corporate money out of politics. In his absence, and in the absence of backbone in the parties and in the Congress, the slick operators have slinked back into town, and in many cases have been invited back or even coerced back into town by elected leaders who have the gall to think that the democracy our children died for is no more than a dirty bag of barter for their enrichment. They are traitors to everything good America stands for.
Here is what Teddy Roosevelt said in 1907:
"...Our government, national and state, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics. That is one of our tasks today...The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being. There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done."
Teddy Roosevelt said it well. Business corporations are not people. They are protective associations that we, the people, allow to be chartered for business purposes on the condition that they will behave.
We must look to whether we can still afford, as a people and as a planet, to give these little monsters a birth certificate but no proper upbringing, no set of expectations, no consequences for antisocial behavior.
We are simply tired of the damage they do and we are tired of cleaning up after them. If they are to be allowed to exist -- and they are indeed important to us -- they must agree to be responsible for their own activities, start to finish, without requiring public dollars to be used to clean their rooms up after them.
The era of corporate irresponsibility must be ended immediately, particularly in regard to the degradation of our political and cultural and natural environments, while we still have the power to act. Parents know that there comes a time when infantile behavior persists, but the child is too large to do much with. We Americans still can act in regard to the corporations we have given birth to, but not by much of an advantage. Our advantage will evaporate early in the 21st Century if we do not act soon.
Friends, does it matter if it is Rupert Murdoch or Michael Eisner, instead of Marshall Tito or Nikita Khrushchev, who owns everything and decides everything for us, even if, through the stock exchange, we all have a powerless piece of this new, mass collective? The soul of democracy is diversity, not concentration. Diversity requires the human scale, not monstrous scale.
It is all quite enough to make us mad, but let me advise you, on the eve of your meetings, that we cannot afford to act out of anger if we desire to win.
Politics today is quite too characterized by anger and even hatred, so let's have none of it here.
If you have true enemies in politics, pray that their lives are filled with anger, for no one so filled can win for long. Anger drains your energy and makes you incapable of endurance or of creative leadership. If you win, your victory will be short-lived. Ask the failed leaders of the so-called Republican Revolution if I am right. Negativity is negativity, and it has no place at the helm of a democracy. It doesn't know what to do with power when it gets it. Only joy and optimism -- and love, really -- can win in the long term.
General Eisenhower said, "Pessimism never won any battle" He was right. Pessimism visualizes defeat. What we visualize, we bring forth.
Carl Sandburg wrote: "Nothing happens unless first a dream."
To the reformers, then: learn optimism if you would have the endurance to succeed, and endurance is required.
Where to find optimism? Well, I have found it for you out on the road, and I give it to you now. It is this:
I give you the Americans I have met. Without exception, they deeply love the idea of America. It is an image they carry in their hearts. It is a dream they are willing to sacrifice their lives for. Many of them do. There is no separating this image of democracy from their longing for personal freedom for themselves, their family, their friends. To the extent that our government is not our own, we are not free people. We feel a heavy oppression in our lives because we have lost hold of this thing, this self-governance, that is rightfully ours because it is our dream and our history. But the spirit of freedom is strong in the American soul, and it is the source of our optimism and joy, because it will always overcome its oppressors.
On the road so far, these Americans have taken me into their homes and fed me at their tables -- shown me the children for whom they sacrifice their working lives and for whom they pray for a free and gentle democracy. And I will tell you that I am with them. I am with their dream and I know you are, too. We are all on this road and we must stay on it together, forgetting our minor differences until, together, we achieve the necessary objective of restoring democracy for individuals, and allowing each individual an equal voice in the civil discussions we have as a self-governing people.
We must end our American Century with the optimism and clear purpose and high ideals with which it began. We must visualize this goal clearly, and work to make it so.
Yes, it is a long road ahead. But what nation can look at their neighbors with such pride as can we? Who thinks they can stand in the way of our need to be free, to manage our own government, to be a force for good in the world, to protect our children and our land, to sweep away before us anyone who tries to turn our sacred institutions of civic freedom to their greedy purposes?
On the road so far, I have seen a great nation. I have felt it hugging my shoulders, shaking my hand, cheering from across the way. I am so in love with it.
I know you are too.
Thank you. Don't argue this weekend, friends -- come together. Act in unity to save our dear democracy. Thank you all.
This speech was given by Doris Haddock (Granny D), at the Reform Party Convention in Dearborn, Michigan, July 23, 1999.
Do you have an opinion on Granny D's remarks, or on campaign finance reform? Tell The Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?